Lieutenant Danyel King was blind.
He hoped it was just because he was lying in total darkness. Dust from the explosion billowed around him as he coughed painfully and dragged himself to his feet. He stretched his hands out in front of him but could see nothing—feel nothing. He took a couple of hesitant steps forward and tripped over the body of another man. He knelt down and ran his hands over him. Was the man dead or alive? He could feel the slight rise and fall of his chest, a faint breath of air against his hand. Alive, then. He felt carefully for any injury but could find nothing obvious.
The man stirred under his hands. “What happened?” he croaked.
“I don’t know. Alpha team was checking out the cave and there was an explosion, but I don’t know what caused it. Methane gas, maybe. Are you injured? There were twelve of us and you’re the only one I’ve found so far—we need to check the rest of the area. Can you get up?”
“Give me a minute. I’m okay, I think. Just a bit dazed.”
Danyel held out a hand to help the other man to his feet. They both explored the space with their arms outstretched and discovered they were alone inside a small cavity about three metres square, with smooth rock on two sides and rubble on the others.
“It looks like we’re trapped here. Hopefully everyone else is safe on the other side of the rock fall, working at getting us out.”
Neither of them mentioned the possibility that the other men were underneath the rubble. What a disastrous end to what was supposed to have been a routine training exercise—locating and retrieving a package hidden somewhere in the cave system.
Danyel spoke again. “I don’t even have my utility belt with me. I think I remember taking it off so I could squeeze in here. Can we contact anyone outside? Have you got a wristcom, or any sort of light that’s working?”
The other man ran through his gear. Checking to see if anything was operational.
“No, nothing. Except maybe my stunner, but I’m reluctant to fire that in here. At least I’ve got some water we can share.” He took out his water bag and handed it to Danyel.
“Thank you, I’ll just take a sip.” Danyel took a mouthful and returned the bag.
“My wristcom is showing the time. At least... it says 13:00. That can’t be right can it? We couldn’t have been here for two hours?”
“It doesn’t seem likely, the dust is still in the air and I’m sure I heard the noise from the actual explosion.”
There was a small pause. “Unless that wasn’t the only one.”
Neither of them liked the images that conjured up.
“I’m going to see if I can climb up to the top of that rock fall, see if there’s a gap or any indication of how wide this fall is.” Danyel moved slowly forward as he spoke, arms outstretched. There was a scrabbling sound as he tried to find a foothold and a few rocks rolled back into their cave.
“I’ve reached the roof. The rocks seem to continue all the way up. Watch out.” He moved a few rocks and let them roll backwards to the cavern floor. “I think we might be able to make a bit of a tunnel here, they seem to be packed fairly loosely. Oh-oh, I spoke too soon, there’s a huge piece of rock here blocking the way. Let me see if I can get around it.” There were more scrabbling sounds and some swearing. Then a crash as Danyel slipped backwards to fall at the other man’s feet, accompanied by a small landslide. He coughed and stood up.
“I’m not sure that’s going to work after all. Do you want to check it out for yourself?”
“No, I’ll take your word for it. It’s probably best to leave those rocks alone. The Revel should be looking for us by now, surely? Once communications were cut off, they would have sent someone down to investigate. Even if my wristcom isn’t working fully, it will still show our location. It should just be a matter of sitting tight until they find us.” The other man sounded a little as if he was trying to convince himself.
“I’m sure the Captain will be right on it. What’s he like, Captain Hayes? I haven’t been on the Revel long enough to know yet,” asked Danyel. He had been promoted to First Lieutenant a month ago and had transferred to the Revel as part of his promotion the week before.
There was a pause. “He’s all right I guess, but he was with Beta team so he must be down here with us somewhere. It’ll be Second Lieutenant Bailey in charge until the Captain’s located.”
Danyel whistled. That wasn’t good. He hoped the Captain was safe. He replied, “Bailey seems sound. I’m sure he’ll be on top of things.” There was a short silence. “I suppose we might as well sit down and get comfortable, there doesn’t seem to be much else we can do for the moment.”
They seated themselves, propping their backs against the wall.
“Do you mind if we keep talking?” asked the other man, his voice sounding hesitant. “To be honest, I’m struggling a bit with this darkness. I never thought I was claustrophobic, but a space ship always has at least some light and there’s always the view outside if you need it.”
“Sure, you can tell me some stories about the ship and the crew.” Danyel paused. “I’m not making a pass at you or anything, but would you like me to sit a bit closer?”
“I’m fine,” the answer came back quickly but Danyel did not take offence. His companion was striving for control, trying to keep his fear in check; he didn’t need to add to the pressure. “Sorry,” the other man apologised. “You’re King aren’t you?”
“Yeah, that’s me. And you are...?”